Step up to the challenge. Stand by your decisions.
I catch up with Louise Hanson, Director of Advocacy at the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
The objective: move an entire business out of a seven floor building with tenants to a new home.
The unknown: “I had never done anything like this before.”
Louise Hanson, Director of Advocacy at the Association of British Insurers, recalls the moment a massive and business critical project caused her to embrace the unknown — and learn to love what it offered.
Tell us what led up to your boldest leap?
“Huw my Director General, asked me to lead the project to exit the ABI offices of seven floors where we were landlords and had a legacy 25 year lease. It was tight. I was given the project in February 2015 and we needed to move out by March 2016. Exiting Gresham Street meant dealing with our tenants as well as the owner — and managing the significant risk of costs of exit — but also offered savings and the chance to move the company culture on.
“In part the move was about supporting the journey of modernisation that Huw and the ABI had been on. Success was about achieving financial benefits, but also about our own cultural change, a way to demonstrate ABI as a modern organisation.”
What was the unknown you were facing?
“My background is in Advocacy. I had never lead a major operations project like this before…
How did that feel?
“Exciting, a fantastic challenge, and I like challenges. But within a few hours of talking to Huw I realised the whole project was completely unformed! There was no certainty, no clear plan or a roadmap for how we were going to get to March 2016.
So how did you tackle it?
I’ve always been a believer in ‘you can get it done’…
…don’t be afraid to try?
“Exactly. Ultimately, what’s the worst that can happen? I agreed early on with my Director General that I needed to be able to make the decisions and get on with it, and we agreed what key decisions he needed to be engaged in — he’d never done this before either! The key step was to build a great team — lawyers, IT, finance, facilities — sit down, work backwards and ask, right how do we get on with it.
How has this encounter with ‘the don’t know’ developed you as a decision maker, as somebody who can lead during uncertainty?
“One of the great realisations I had was that I’m good at making decisions and standing by them. I made multiple decisions every day and was good at taking advice and hearing the team’s views — the project would not have happened if I hadn’t. I suppose the lesson is, don’t be afraid of taking decisions because nothing gets done unless you do.
“I was applying my skills in a completely different environment and it made me think about my skill set. It made me move outside the day-to-day and flex my skills of judgment, engagement, communication and risk assessment. When you realise you’ve helped deliver something that’s saved huge sums…. that’s a real confidence boost. I know I can take this experience and use it in other ways.”
And has it impacted the company culture?
“Massively. As with all organisations we are in a constant period of change; we are modernising and have changed the ABI hugely in recent years. The move helped us engage our people — we could get them excited about the new offices being modern, fresh with natural light. It’s also influenced how we engage with members, how we project ourselves to stakeholders and how we represent ourselves, as a modern cost-efficient organisation.”
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